Single-use face masks continue to provide some of the best protection against COVID-19, and the demand for them is only growing, with 52 billion disposable masks produced globally in 2020 alone.
Unfortunately, single-use face masks are continuing to pile up in landfills as they’re not kerbside recyclable.
Single-use masks are commonly made of polypropylene, which breaks up easily into microplastics. Because face masks are considered ‘non-recyclable’ in traditional kerbside recycling, they need to be disposed of in general waste. This means they’ll go to landfill and it is estimated that it will take over 450 years for these masks to breakdown.
Here in Australia, various individuals and communities have stepped in to tackle face mask waste. It’s time to shine a light on a few members of the community who are using TerraCycle Face Mask Zero Waste Box to recycle not only their own face masks but also provide a solution for the wider community.
We caught up with Amber Carter is Principal Teaching & Learning at St Paul’s Catholic College, located in Booragul in the beautiful Lake Macquarie in New South Wales. Following the state’s longest lockdown, students are returning to classrooms and face masks are mandated in classrooms. When students reported seeing disposable masks in the lake, which posed a risk to native plants and animals, St Paul’s Catholic College decided to take action and purchase a Zero Waste Box.
“The response from the school community has been positive and it has been great to see the box filling up. Every mask that is placed in the box is one less mask that goes into the environment.” -Amber Carter, Principal Teacher at St Paul’s Catholic College.
“In response to the public health order for mandatory mask-wearing, our school community recognised the need for something to be done about the waste created by disposable masks,” said Mrs Carter.
“We very quickly recognised the impact COVID-19 had on the waste we were producing. Along with the Zero Waste Box, we also have a system of reusing cleaning cloths, introduced reusable bottles for hand sanitiser and surface cleaners and have made extra single-use plastic recycling bins available around the school. These strategies complement our current recycling program which focuses on the recycling and sustainable use of paper, single-use plastics and green waste.”
Mrs Carter described how St Paul’s is going the extra mile by opening the collection to the broader community. “Anyone can use the Zero Waste Box and we have staff and students who collect masks from others outside the school community to place in the box. Unfortunately, we went into lockdown a few days before we received our Zero Waste box, however, with the staggered return of students over the next few weeks, we will need to order another box very soon!”
Any business, school, council or household can save disposable masks from landfill by using TerraCycle Face Mask Zero Waste Box!
Ilia Bazlov, and his partner Alena Sergienko both hail from Russia. This year, Ilia founded the Arthur Murray Franchise Dance Studio in Hornsby, New South Wales. His small business is part of the world’s oldest dance organisation with more than 270 studios in 22 countries teaching s dance lessons to adults of all ages and levels.
Ilia said he and his partner have become more aware of their environmental impact since moving to Australia.
“In Russia, more than 90% of waste goes to landfill and we don’t have a culture of recycling and waste separation. When we moved here, we were pleasantly surprised by the solutions offered by zero waste shops, local councils, and recycling centres to individuals and businesses. That’s when we started our eco-friendly journey.”
As a new business owner, and working in an industry that has been shut down by restrictions due to COVID-19 in NSW, the studio also faced the problem of rising waste.
“The dance industry has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic a lot. Because of the lockdown, we were not able to welcome our students to the studio. During our studio renovation, all our contractors had to comply with the government regulations so we started having a lot of waste even before opening our doors – we had disposable masks, paper towels. single-use plastic cups everywhere.”
Despite trying to set up their studio to be as waste-free as possible, Ilia realised, “the only waste that we knew we would still generate a lot was disposable masks. We understand that dancing with a mask on is a challenging task and wearing a reusable mask makes it even more challenging.”
“As we couldn’t eliminate that waste, we started looking for a recycling solution and found a Zero Waste Box from TerraCycle. We installed it next to the exit so that all our students and staff can easily access and use it.”
Since opening their doors again, Ilia and his partner agree they’ve “received a lot of positive feedback on our little box. It’s so great to do our bit in helping the environment and it also make people feel less guilty about having to wear a disposable mask.”
Do you want to start recycling face masks for yourself or on behalf of the community?
How do you use a Mask – Zero Waste Box?
- A medium-sized Zero Waste Box can collect approximately 1,200 masks depending on how compressed the masks are.
- You can recycle non-woven disposable plastic-based face masks including 3-ply surgical, dust masks, KN95, and N95 masks.
- Do not send in other types of protective gear like gloves, hair nets, or lab coats and garments.
- Do not send in paper or cloth masks.
- Do not send in medical waste. This includes material contaminated with blood or bodily fluids that originate from health care facilities, hospitals, physicians’ offices, dental offices, blood banks, veterinary clinics, research laboratories, etc.
How does TerraCycle recycle face masks?
All of the PPE waste sent to TerraCycle is quarantined for at least two months. It is then manually sorted and shredded, the metal from the nose clips is smelted and the plastic is melted down into low-grade plastic pellets. The recycled pellet material is then used by third parties to manufacture a variety of new products including outdoor furniture, park benches and decking. To learn more and see our video on how we recycle face masks checkout our recent blog post on face masks.